Where First Time Visitors To The US Should REALLY Visit

New York City Skyline

I meet a lot of people and whenever I’m traveling overseas I’m impressed by the number of folks who have either been to the U.S. or want to visit my country. But then I chat with them a little more and I get depressed. I ask them where in America they’d most like to visit and almost all have the same answers: New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Sometimes Disney World is thrown in but not often. I have some issues with these choices and while I sort of understand where they come from, I’d like to offer some alternate suggestions for where first time visitors to the US should go.

The Elephant In The Room: New York, Vegas and LA

First we have to answer the question though why these three cities? To begin, I agree with New York and have no issue with the fact that almost all foreign visitors want to head to the Big Apple first. The star of countless TV shows and movies, it really is one of the best cities in the world and I encourage everyone to visit. But then there’s the issue of Vegas and LA. Again, I think that the impetus for visiting these two cities comes entirely from pop culture and sadly, that’s not good enough. Why visit Vegas? To gamble and drink? If that’s all you want to do, then maybe you should rethink your visit to the country. LA makes the list because everyone thinks that they’ll get some sort of iconic Hollywood experience there, but they won’t. Instead they will find a massive and sprawling city with little to do and see of interest. Again, it’s just my opinion but if you’ve never been to the U.S. before Vegas and LA should NEVER be the first two places you visit. Instead, you should look to other parts of the country that really are emblematic of America and where you’ll start to learn a little bit more about this great country. I could list possible destinations for would-be first time travelers to the States all day long, but to keep this list more manageable I’ve limited myself to just a few top picks.

Photo by Twenty-SomethingTravel.com

1. Seattle

The Pacific Northwest is one of my personal favorite areas of the country and I think a great spot to visit for any first time visitor. Seattle in particular is a fantastic option because there’s so much to see and do both within the city limits and just a short drive beyond. Like any city, just walking around Seattle is part of the fun and a visit to the touristy but enjoyable Pike Place Market rewards folks with fresh fish and the original Starbucks. I love quirky museums and Seattle has plenty of those like the Experience Music Project Museum. Great daytrips include Mount Rainier, San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula and once you’re back in town the food options all around town are plentiful with a little something for everyone. I think of the Pacific Northwest as America’s fun-loving, outdoorsy side and it’s an important aspect to our personality about which everyone should learn more.

New Orleans binoculars

2. New Orleans

One of my favorite cities, New Orleans does usually appear on the top ten lists for many international visitors, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Sure, Bourbon Street is a party every night of the year, but the city is about a lot more than booze and dancing. I think the city is one of the most interesting in the country and its history is so strange and unusual that it begs people to learn more about it. Always a welcoming place, people of all shapes and sizes have lived peacefully side by side for centuries in America’s first and most successful melting pot. Today in addition to a place to learn about history, it’s also a major foodie destination. Since Hurricane Katrina hundreds of new restaurants have opened, more than triple than what existed before the disaster. The result is a culinary wonderland with the traditional staples like Cajun and Creole, but also some new and innovative foodie experiences.

Washington DC

3. Washington, DC

OK, I may be biased since this is my hometown but I really do think that DC is an important first stop when visiting America. Our nation’s capital, all of the important monuments and memorials are found here, many of which line the beautiful National Mall. Also along the Mall are some of the best museums in the world, the always free to enter Smithsonian Institution museums that cover everything from American History to Air and Space and some smaller, more unusual ones as well. But we’re not just about museums and monuments, in recent years the city has seen a shift in demographics and old neighborhoods have come back to life. Explore new restaurants and bars in Barracks Row or head to Georgetown to do some high-end shopping. DC is also well-located, an easy drive, bus or train ride from Philadelphia and New York so there’s really no excuse NOT to visit the capital city region.

Alberta Canada Road

4. Epic Drive

America is huge, on a scale that most people around the world really can’t grasp at first. To really see and better understand what makes America tick a great road trip is in order. We love our cars so much here because it’s the only way to get around, and the small towns and beautiful landscapes you will experience on a long drive are just an added bonus. There are many great routes you could take, from an exploration of the Deep South to an old fashioned Route 66 drive. Something I personally would love to do is to drive around the American West, stopping off at National Parks, quirky towns and who knows what else. It’s only by getting out, talking to people in smaller towns and seeing what daily life is really like that you truly begin to understand this great country.

Haleakala National Park

5. Any National Park

I’m proud to say that America started the modern conservation movement in the 19th century when it created the first National Park. Since then we have added 58 more and many other national monuments and sites forming a vast web of areas so important, that we have deemed they must be forever protected. The so-called North American model of conservation is now the norm around the world, but to really appreciate its importance a visit to a few American parks is in order. From Yellowstone to Yosemite and Glacier to the Great Smoky Mountains, we have a lot of options and no one should ever miss the opportunity to visit a few.

Savannah, Georgia

6. Savannah

I love the South and I proudly claim it as my region of origin, which in fact is only partly true. Regardless, I think that the South gets a bad rap and while international visitors do in fact want to visit, I don’t think they do so for the right reasons. Why you should really visit the south is to learn more about the history of America, to experience a vibrant and lively culture and to eat some of the best food you’ll ever enjoy. One of the best places to do all of this is in Savannah, Georgia. A great colonial-era city, you can see all of America’s history through the graceful parks and architecture of the city, antebellum through today. It’s also a little quirky, which is the hallmark of any great Southern city. I think that real soul food is one of America’s great culinary staples, and you’re spoiled for choice down in Savannah. So go, explore and see what the South really is all about.

These are just a few of the many places where I think foreign visitors should go on their first visit to the U.S. What are some other places that should be added to this list?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

15 Responses

  1. Jim

    I might be biased, but I think Philadelphia should be on every first timers list. See the birthplace of America and sample some of the country’s best food. Plus, it’s directly on the way between New York City and Washington DC if you are traveling by car, bus, or train.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Yeah Philly is a good place and you’re right is a good stopover

      Reply
  2. Tania

    How about Boston & San Fransisco? Bean town is a beautiful city with history and culture and San Fran is just stunning!

    Reply
  3. AJ Aerni

    While visiting LA, don’t forget to drive south 1.5 hrs to check out all that San Diego has to offer. Balboa park for 19 museums including The Nat, whale watching for blue and gray whales, 2 epic zoos where you can feed and touch rhinos and giraffes while in the back of an african safari-style pickup truck , the best shark cage diving with Great White Sharks in the world at Guadalupe Island, snorkeling in 5 ft deep water with Leopard sharks in La Jolla Cove, hiking Iron Mountain for amazing sunsets, and sooooo many more things. Feel free to contact us direct and couch surf our couch and we’ll even show you around. We’re in San Diego until May/June when we leave for Alaska.

    Reply
  4. Luke

    While I’ll certainly agree that LA is an overrated sprawling crap hole, I do just love vegas. Even beyond gambling there’s plenty to do, immense displays to see and so much people watching to do. Maybe not a good representation of America, but it’s very unique.

    Reply
  5. Becky

    I think this is really great advice and generally speaking, I agree with all of it. I’d definitely advise first-timers to spend a week in the “must-do” cities of NYC & DC and a week somewhere out of the big cities — like the national parks or the drive you mentioned. That’s a great, well-rounded first visit and enough to leave visitors wanting to come back for more 🙂

    Reply
  6. Glen

    I agree with adding Philadelphia. It has historical significance. From what I have recently read it also has a great food culture. Keeping with history, I love Boston and especially wandering around the North End. Then to show something of its natural beauty…something out west, like the Grand Canyon, or other canyons of Arizona and Utah.

    Reply
  7. Swati rangari

    I want travel in the elephant in the room: new york , vegas and LA

    Reply
  8. Gvilletravler

    I agree with National Parks and the American west. I particularly like Utah parks. Also would recommend northern New Mexico. Santa Fe and Taos and some visits to pueblos to learn about Native American culture. Mesa Verde is also incredible.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      All great additions – I need to start planning!

      Reply
  9. Brian

    Two incredible places to consider, while somewhat distant from the US mainland:

    1. Hawaii. If you grew up in Europe, Hawaii’s islands are the stuff of legend. Each island offers something special and unique (my personal preference is Kauai), and to someone used to urban life, especially in colder climates, Hawaii offers a chance for memories that will last a lifetime.

    2. Alaska. To visit Alaska is to embrace a wonderful past and present, a place of infinite majesty, a place often wild and wonderfully untamed. Big does not begin to describe it. Whether it’s a visit along Alaska’s coastlines or its rugged and amazing interior, few places in the world can rival this breathtaking place.

    Reply
  10. Ina

    Hi. I love your insight. I told a friend the same thing when he was planning to visit our country. I think that you have left one very important stop off your list though. If people are in the Georgia/Florida area, they absolutely should stop in at St. Augustine, Florida. It’s really not that far of a drive from Savannah.
    St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in our country. It was founded by Spanish explorers, and has a very long and interesting history. Even better, the architecture has a great colonial Spanish feel that is not matched by any other city in our country.
    The food is great. The music is great. The night life is great. The beach is okay. The fort is awesome.
    But our favorite activity was visiting the authentic recreations of Spanish tall ships. One was an exact replica of Magellan’s ship that first circumnavigated the earth.

    Reply
  11. RRE

    The Great Lakes. This would be a low-key vacation for people who love nature and small towns. Drive along the lakes, all the way around Michigan along Lakes Michigan and Huron; or around Lake Michigan through Wisconsin and Michigan; or around beautiful wild Lake Superior through Mich/Wis/Minn and Canada. And then for a few thrills, there’s Cedar Point, a big amusement park on Lake Erie. Also, don’t forget Niagara Falls, both the U.S. and Canadian side.

    Reply
  12. Fenris

    Nice guide mate.I will bookmark this for my resources to traveling US ^_^

    Reply

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